Ah the Careterra Austral. These are two words both Faye and I had never heard until we began cycling in South America. But everywhere we went, and from every cycle tourist we met who learned of our route south, the question was the same: ‘So you’re going to DO the Careterra Austral, right?’
Based on these conversations (and our tendency to perform minimal research into route options) it seemed as if there were only one way to travel through Northern Patagonia. And so ‘DO’ the Careterra Austral, we would.
In the words of the Lonely Planet: ‘The Carretera Austral begins where Chile’s Lakes District ends, snaking south for 1240km into a land of dense forests, snow-tipped mountains, glacial streams, islands and swift-flowing rivers’
Oooh la la! SWIT-SWOO! I say! Now, if Carlsberg made road descriptions, they would have made that one. And I can attest that everything included in that marketing pitch is 100% true, we saw all of these lovely things from the seat of our humble bicycles. And of course that makes us incredibly lucky ducks. But after two weeks spent pedalling those 1,240km I am going to lay my cards on the table and say: It just wasn’t our bag.
I really wanted to like the Careterra Austral, and so I have found it difficult to write this post. My fingers hover over the keyboard, sticking as I type, because dislike as an emotion doesn’t sit well with me. I considered deleting it all in favour of just sharing some pretty pictures and telling you all how wonderful it was – but that idea made my insides wriggle.
In the end, time spent on the Careterra felt like going on a date with someone who has been pitted as your perfect romantic match. On paper, everything seems ideal. The person in question ticks all of the right boxes. They are good looking, smart and funny, only… two drinks in and you realise there’s just no chemistry. And BY GOD you need chemistry in life! Try as you might to find ways to embrace their apparent perfection – they just don’t float your adventure-loving, serenity-seeking boat.
Too many people, too many cars, expensive tourist towns and a whole host of ongoing road construction made for a disappointing introduction to what is one of the most stunning areas on planet earth: Patagonia.
That said, we have come away from the past two weeks having unexpectedly made many new friends along the way. When the roads quietened down and the valleys were our own once more, we enjoyed many beautiful wild camp spots, including one next to the bluest glacial lake I have ever seen. We have wound our way around the side of mountains, following the path of peppermint coloured rivers into lush green forests and beyond.
Needless to say that The Careterra didn’t quite hold all of the romance we hoped for, but we’ll stay good friends and I might drop back in on it one day – just to see how things have changed.
Metres ascended on bikes so far: 95,512m
Live track us as we go in search of greater serenity, here: http://z6z.co/AndesAdventure